Science Highlights

You are here


Each year, scientists with the Office of Science, at our national laboratories, and supported by the Office of Science at the nation’s colleges and universities, publish thousands of research findings in the scientific literature. About 200 of these are selected annually by their respective program areas in the Office of Science as publication highlights of special note.

For the archive of past publication highlights, click here.

October 22, 2019
A high-resolution microscopy image shows the atomic structure of a layered electronic material. The schematic shows electrons moving from the surface of the upper layer (lanthanum strontium manganese (Mn) oxide) to the interface with the substrate.
How Electrons Move in a Catastrophe
Layer-by-layer analysis uncovers microscopic mechanisms that affect thin film magnetism important to electronics.
October 16, 2019
This schematic drawing shows the apparatus, with the cryogenic ion trap shown in the inset, used to predict the behavior of ions more accurately.
When Ions and Molecules Cluster
New approach to studying ions accurately predicts behavior, providing insights for biological systems, environmental processes, materials development.
October 10, 2019
(left) Surface diffusion of lithium ions across battery nanoparticles changes an electrode. (right) A molecular dynamics simulation of liquid-assisted surface diffusion of lithium ions.
End-run Spreads Lithium Throughout Battery Electrodes
A new path is identified to keep lithium in its place during battery discharge, benefitting efforts to design better energy storage options.
October 9, 2019
Poplar cuttings inoculated with M. elongata strain PM193 (far right) grow larger in 30 percent forest soil / 70 percent sand than without PM193 (middle). On the left are controls grown in sterile sand. (Chih-Ming Hsu).
Fungus Fuels Tree Growth
Researchers start pinning down how a fungal symbiont spurs growth of poplar, a potential biofuel feedstock.
October 9, 2019
Model of the combination of factors that increase microbial diversity. Green arrows indicate higher diversity and red arrows indicate lower diversity with arrow thickness representing the strength of the effect.
Cultivating an Understanding of Microbial Diversity
Plant diversity, soil structure, and seasonality all influence microbial diversity in soil.
October 9, 2019
A research team from UC Berkeley found that hexokinase could act as a switch between photosynthesis and accumulation of bioproducts including lipids and antioxidants in algae.
Discovering an Internal Metabolic Switch in Algae
Discovering hexokinase as an algal regulator of lipids and high-value antioxidants will enable sustainable sources of biofuels and bioproducts.
September 24, 2019
On the left, a computer model depicts a self-assembled tetrahelix made up of tetrahedral quantum dots. On the right, a skeleton view of the tetrahelix demonstrates the chiral structure of the assembly.
Tune in to Tetrahedral Superstructures
Scientists image complex superstructures self-assembled from tetrahedral quantum dots, expanding our understanding of forming small, complex crystals.
September 24, 2019
Scientists produced this map of tiny glassy grains (blue with green specks) inside a cometary-type interplanetary dust particle using the FEI TitanX microscope at the Molecular Foundry. Carbonaceous material (red) holds these objects together.
Tracing Interstellar Dust Back to the Solar System’s Formation
Interplanetary particles offer insights into the chemistry of the cosmos.
September 18, 2019
Atomic scale views of irradiation-induced defects in titanium diboride after irradiation at ~200 degrees Celsius.
Investigating Materials that Can Go the Distance in Fusion Reactors
A test of titanium diboride opens the door to a potential new class of materials for fusion reactor applications.
September 18, 2019
Seung Joon Lee holds the variable angle slant hole collimator. This device can help a breast molecular imaging system get six times better contrast of cancer lesions, providing the same or better image quality while potentially halving the radiation dose.
Better 3-D Imaging of Tumors in the Breast with Less Radiation
A new device may provide up to six times better contrast of tumors in the breast, while halving the radiation dose to patients.
September 18, 2019
Specialization for inorganic nitrogen metabolism. The outer ring shows a substantial fraction of incomplete pathways were found in genomes from each phylum. For most phyla, the average number of pathways per genome was about 1.9.
Microbes are Metabolic Specialists
Microbial Communities Matter in How Ecosystems Retain or Lose Nitrogen
September 18, 2019
In metallic glasses, atoms are arranged randomly, leading to unique properties. These glasses are brittle. A map of calculated “strength” in the structure shows “hard” and “soft” spots. The team predicts the soft spots are the sites that initiate failure.
Even Hard Materials Have Soft Spots
Scientists find the weak points to facilitate industrial applications of metallic glasses.
September 18, 2019
Waves of heat, called phonons, cause atoms to rotate in a certain direction. Selenium atoms (yellow) collectively go through a clockwise circular atomic motion while the tungsten atoms (blue) don’t move.
2-D Atoms Do the Twist
Scientists discover a completely new atomic motion in a 2-D material.
September 10, 2019
The position of a charged monomer (blue dots) along a polymer chain impacts the final structures (structures 1, 3, and 5 from the sequence library) following assembly into micelles (bottom).
Location, Location, Location… How charge placement can control a self-assembled structure.
Location, Location, Location… How charge placement can control a self-assembled structure.
September 10, 2019
Electron microscopy of crack injection. Corrosion creates a nanoporous layer in the material (left) that propagates almost twice as far into the grain boundary as it does away from the boundary. The right image shows an injected crack.
Cracking in Harsh Environments Needs Stress and Corrosion, But Not at the Same Time
Redefining the mechanisms of stress corrosion cracking for materials in energy generation and industrial systems.
September 10, 2019
In a novel simultaneous clean-and-repair mechanism, flowing oil-in-water droplets move nanoparticle (NP) debris, shown as green spheres, into the cracks. The droplets pick up the NPs, then deposit them in the cracked regions.
Simultaneous Clean and Repair
Simple fluid-driven nanoparticle catch-and-release process directs repair of cracks with debris from the damage.
September 10, 2019
Contrary to previous theories, fungal spores-rather than sea salt-contribute the most to atmospheric sodium salt particles over the pristine Amazon basin, according to recent findings from an international team of scientists.
Where Does Salt in the Amazon Air Come From?
For the first time, an international team of scientists has discovered the true origin of sodium salt in pristine Amazon air.
September 10, 2019
Cells of the Gram-positive bacteria (a) and fungal enrichment culture (b) after cell disruption with an ultra-sonication bath for 10 minutes. With identical treatment, no intact cells were found in the Gram-negative bacterial enrichment culture (c).
Testing the Toughness of Microbial Cell Walls
Some cells stand firm against techniques to extract the biological material inside, while others don’t stand a chance.
September 10, 2019
Emerging poplar leaves in spring.
How Many Copies Does It Take to Change a Trait?
The number of copies of genes a poplar tree has influences its traits.
August 23, 2019
A faceted metal island of the rare-earth element dysprosium formed under a layer of graphite. The team deposited the metal at 577 degrees Celsius after they bombarded graphite with argon ions.
Getting Metal Under Graphite’s Skin
A new route to make metal beneath a layer of graphite opens potentially new applications in solar cells and quantum computing.
August 23, 2019
A molecular model of the team’s designer nanosheet shows loop structures of sugars that bind to the Shiga toxin, which causes dysentery. Artificial peptides, named peptoids by the inventing team, assemble themselves into ordered nanosheets.
Tiny, Sugar-Coated Sheets Selectively Target Pathogens
Researchers design self-assembling nanosheets that mimic the surface of cells.
August 23, 2019
A team used kinetic and mechanistic data from model studies to create an approach that could predict the selectivity of a catalyst. They tested it on a nanoporous gold catalyst under a large range of experimentally relevant conditions.
Crossing the Great Divide Between Model Studies and Applied Reactors in Catalysis
Controlled pulses of chemicals over a wide pressure range can link fundamental studies to practical performance, informing catalyst design.
August 23, 2019
Researchers used the Blanco telescope in conducting the Dark Energy Survey. The Milky Way is on the left of the sky, with the Magellanic clouds in the center.
Survey Delivers on Dark Energy with Multiple Probes
The Dark Energy Survey has delivered dark energy constraints combining information from four of its primary cosmological probes for the first time.
August 23, 2019
FIONA is a new system at Berkeley Lab’s 88-Inch Cyclotron that enables direct mass number measurements of superheavy elements.
Building a Scale to Weigh Superheavy Elements
Expanding our understanding of the structure and decay properties of some of the most exotic elements.
August 23, 2019
Microbial Merry-Go-Round.  In this metaphorical carousel, the velocity of each bacterial cell indicates its relative growth rate. New data indicate that this metaphor applies over a range of ecosystems, from high desert grassland to subalpine prairie.
Microbial Evolution: Nature Leads, Nurture Supports
Across ecosystems, microbial traits are preserved along lineages, much like in multicellular organisms, and can improve the development of soil models